Manila Standard : Comelec needs P8B more to ensure health protocols

15 September 2021

By Macon Ramos-Araneta | Manila Standard

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will need an additional P8 billion budget next year to reduce the number of registered voters per clustered precinct during the 2022 national and local elections.

During the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Election System hearing, Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice raised the need to reduce the number of voters per clustered precinct.

This, Erice said, would ensure that health protocols are followed during next year’s polls, considering the health risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, four of 10 possible voter registration days in Metro Manila were lost due to the lockdowns, stressed Senator Francis Pangilinan after the Senate on Tuesday night adopted a resolution urging the Comelec to extend the voter registration deadline from September 30 to October 31, 2021.

Because of the suspensions, which ran for about five and a half months, Pangilinan said that around 28.3% of voter registration days were lost.

He said this does not include the days when registration was suspended due to the recent typhoons that entered the country.

Erice said there might be problems in observing social distancing even if the poll body extends the voting hours to 12 to 14 hours.

Poll commissioner Marlon Casquejo then said the Comelec needs additional 10,000 vote counting machines (VCMs) to lower the number of voters per clustered precinct.

So far, the number of existing VCMs are sufficient to cater 1,000 voters per clustered precinct.

“We lack budget for this but we have savings in the Comelec which we can use for the additional 10,000 VCMs,” Casquejo said.

“So, the cost of 10,000 [VCMs] is roughly additional P1 billion plus the manpower for the additional clustered precincts, our electoral boards, and the support and everything, as computed by the finance department we need at least I think P8 billion. I guess ‘yun ang naging computation last time,” he said.

Should the Comelec lower the number of voters per clustered precinct to 600, Casquejo said they need 20,000 additional VCMs.

Last week, the Comelec Special Bids and Awards Committee (SBAC) declared a failure of bidding for the lease of additional 10,000 VCMs for next year’s polls.

According to Comelec SBAC chairperson Allen Francis Abaya, there was a failure of bidding because the lone bidder -- Smartmatic -- did not participate or submit a bidding proposal due to insufficient approved budget for the contract (ABC).

Abaya said they will do a second bidding round once the additional ABC budget is approved by the Comelec project management office around October.

While it is important for Comelec to be given enough time to prepare a final list of voters that is a prerequisite for the preparations and completion of its Project of Precincts (POP), Pangilinan said senators believe a one-month extension will not delay Comelec’s preparation.

He reiterated that from 2001 to 2016, the voter registration deadlines were set on or beyond October 31.

The Upper Chamber unanimously adopted Senate Resolution 851 after Pangilinan delivered a privilege speech and moved to transfer the referral of the measure from the Senate committee on electoral reforms to the committee on rules.

Senate electoral committee chairperson Imee Marcos and Senators Risa Hontiveros and Juan Miguel Zubiri manifested their support for SR 851.

In his privilege speech, Pangilinan cited the long queues and the surge of registrants in Comelec offices when it resumed voter registration last September 6.

He said the local Comelec offices are implementing a cut-off system and only accommodate around 200 to 300 registrants per day.

The senator also said several factors that hinder the public from registering at Comelec offices: contracting COVID-19, losing their slots, and lack of time to register. Some were even discouraged from registering with Comelec, he added.

Based on Philippine Statistics Authority data, Pangilinan said the estimated voting population for 2022 is around 73.3 million, while the Comelec said there are already 61.06 million registered voters as of August 24.

“It means there are 12.24 million Filipinos not yet registered to vote in the next 17 days,” Pangilinan said.

Citing his office’s study, Pangilinan said registrations in NCR and Region IV-A or Calabarzon are not meeting the PSA projection.

“While the national average of the registered voters vis-à-vis the PSA projection is 86.6%, 69.2% lang sa NCR at 76.5% sa Calabarzon. It is also low in Central Luzon or Region 3 at 79%,” he said.

He reiterated his call to prevent the disenfranchisement of voters, ensure safe voter registration, give consideration as there are countless lockdowns imposed due to COVID-19, and extend the voter registration.